Commentary Magazine


Topic: Texas gubernatorial race

Wendy Davis’s Abortion Flip Disaster

In recent weeks, Texas Democrat Wendy Davis has been struggling to get her gubernatorial campaign back on track. After rocketing to stardom last year for her 13-hour filibuster in the Texas State Senate to stop a bill limiting late-term abortions, Davis became the idol of liberals and their great hope to lead a Democratic revival in the Lone Star State. But while Democrats and feminists saw her as the new voice of abortion-rights advocacy, her campaign strategists preferred to emphasize her life story as a someone who rose from being a single mother in living in a trailer park and then worked her way through college and law school. But the publication last month of Dallas Morning News feature that revealed that Davis was not quite the self-starter she claimed to be revealed the perils of running on a mythical Horatio Alger story.

Along with tales of a troubled and possibly incompetent staff, Davis’ long shot run for Austin seemed in trouble. But as bad as all that seemed, the latest news about Davis should not only brand her as a hypocrite but further dampen the enthusiasm of her national audience. As the Dallas Morning News reports, Davis now says she supports the very same ban on abortions that she filibustered: 

Wendy Davis said Tuesday that she would have supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, if the law adequately deferred to a woman and her doctor.

Davis, a Fort Worth senator and the likely Democratic nominee for governor, told The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board that less than one-half of 1 percent of Texas abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most of those were in cases where fetal abnormalities were evident or there were grave risks to the health of the woman.

“I would line up with most people in Texas who would prefer that that’s not something that happens outside of those two arenas,” Davis said.

While Davis tried to explain her famous filibuster by claiming that the Texas bill she temporarily stopped didn’t provide enough exceptions to the ban to account for risks to the health of women, that isn’t true. The bill had the same exceptions that Davis said she wanted. While there was a difference of opinion about the tougher safety standards for abortion clinics that was part of the legislation (provisions that protected the health of women), there was little question that the real issue here was late-term abortion. By claiming now to be in favor of such a ban in a vain effort to curry favor with moderate Texas voters, Davis has trashed her own brand. If Texans were not already questioning her authenticity after learning more about her personal history, they know understand that even on her signature issue, she’s as phony as three dollar bill.

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In recent weeks, Texas Democrat Wendy Davis has been struggling to get her gubernatorial campaign back on track. After rocketing to stardom last year for her 13-hour filibuster in the Texas State Senate to stop a bill limiting late-term abortions, Davis became the idol of liberals and their great hope to lead a Democratic revival in the Lone Star State. But while Democrats and feminists saw her as the new voice of abortion-rights advocacy, her campaign strategists preferred to emphasize her life story as a someone who rose from being a single mother in living in a trailer park and then worked her way through college and law school. But the publication last month of Dallas Morning News feature that revealed that Davis was not quite the self-starter she claimed to be revealed the perils of running on a mythical Horatio Alger story.

Along with tales of a troubled and possibly incompetent staff, Davis’ long shot run for Austin seemed in trouble. But as bad as all that seemed, the latest news about Davis should not only brand her as a hypocrite but further dampen the enthusiasm of her national audience. As the Dallas Morning News reports, Davis now says she supports the very same ban on abortions that she filibustered: 

Wendy Davis said Tuesday that she would have supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, if the law adequately deferred to a woman and her doctor.

Davis, a Fort Worth senator and the likely Democratic nominee for governor, told The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board that less than one-half of 1 percent of Texas abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most of those were in cases where fetal abnormalities were evident or there were grave risks to the health of the woman.

“I would line up with most people in Texas who would prefer that that’s not something that happens outside of those two arenas,” Davis said.

While Davis tried to explain her famous filibuster by claiming that the Texas bill she temporarily stopped didn’t provide enough exceptions to the ban to account for risks to the health of women, that isn’t true. The bill had the same exceptions that Davis said she wanted. While there was a difference of opinion about the tougher safety standards for abortion clinics that was part of the legislation (provisions that protected the health of women), there was little question that the real issue here was late-term abortion. By claiming now to be in favor of such a ban in a vain effort to curry favor with moderate Texas voters, Davis has trashed her own brand. If Texans were not already questioning her authenticity after learning more about her personal history, they know understand that even on her signature issue, she’s as phony as three dollar bill.

This cynical pivot on abortion shouldn’t surprise those who have followed Davis’s career closely. As even the sympathetic profile in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine reveals, the Texas state senator is a cool customer who has built her career on pragmatism and is nothing like the supermom or the liberal ideologue that her fans loved. Though the national discussion about her filibuster that was fueled by the glowing stories about Davis that were broadcast and published by the liberal mainstream media portrayed her as a lone figure standing up against dark forces of intolerance, her latest comments about the issue reveal that she understands what most Americans are thinking about abortion.

Nationwide efforts to ban late-term abortions are not driven by pro-life fanaticism but by the recognition by the majority of Americans that once a fetus is viable, the line between abortion and infanticide has been erased. Just as important, the conditions and practices at clinics that perform such procedures have come under greater scrutiny since the Kermit Gosnell murder case in Philadelphia last year. Davis’s effort to avoid being labeled as the champion of such procedures is an understandable attempt to be seen as part of the mainstream rather than as a symbol of liberal extremism.

But the problem for Davis is that this maneuver will now be seen as just another example of her dishonesty. Voters understand that a women who would fib about working her way up on her own when, in fact, she was put through college and law school by the financial support of an older second husband whom she discarded once he had paid off her debts, is someone who is liable to say or do anything to get ahead. The Times Magazine profile, which provides a breathless account of the filibuster, also reveals that Davis sent an envoy to her ex-husband last fall to persuade him to keep quiet about the details of their marriage and divorce. Unfortunately for her, he hasn’t complied and the portrait of the candidate that has emerged from his interviews has been devastating. When asked about his ex-wife’s attempts to portray herself as a more dutiful mother than she actually was, Jeff Davis, who emptied a retirement account to put Wendy through Harvard Law and then gave her a no-show job at his company to give her a salary, wearily responded to Times writer Robert Draper, “print the legend,” the classic line from the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

Perhaps liberals would still like Davis’s career to be portrayed in the manner of the hero of that film whose fictional exploits were deemed more important than the truth, but Davis’s flip flop on late-term abortion puts a neat bow on the story line of her mendacity. Wendy Davis’s campaign was built on the idea that she was different from other politicians. But it turns out that not only does her personal life show her to be a typical Type A political animal that will exploit anyone to get ahead, she’s even willing to fudge on the issue that made her a star. That’s a formula almost certain to return her to a well-deserved obscurity after November.

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Why a Feminist Heroine Revised Her Bio

Has there ever been a more meteoric rise to national political prominence than that of Wendy Davis? A year ago Davis was so obscure a Democratic Texas state senator that even savvy liberal Beltway pundits couldn’t have picked her out of a police lineup. But her June 25 filibuster of a bill limiting late-term abortions and imposing more rigorous safety standards on clinics catapulted her to superstardom in the national liberal media. The legislation she managed to stop that day eventually passed (and has, despite the expectations of many liberals, largely survived judicial scrutiny) but Davis’s stand had already made her a heroine to a national media that was all too happy to celebrate her act as heroic even though they treated filibusters conducted by conservative Republican senators like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in Washington last year as a foolish waste of time.

Indeed, Democrats could scarcely believe their luck when they learned Davis was not only a photogenic blonde whose pink sneakers became an icon for abortion-rights supporters but also had a biography that sounded like political gold. Thanks to the values of the liberal media, soon the nation learned that she was a former single teenaged mother who, by dint of old-fashioned guts, smarts and gumption, had worked her way through college and then through Harvard Law School before turning to politics. With that kind of background and the notoriety the filibuster gave her, it’s little wonder that she became a darling of national liberal political donors such as Emily’s List and the almost certain Democratic nominee in the 2014 governor’s race.

But it turns out the true account of her life doesn’t exactly match up to the story she’s been selling while raising money for her campaign. As the Dallas Morning News reported in a story published over the weekend, “facts have been blurred” in order to make her seem more sympathetic. Davis conveniently omitted some details that are germane to her tale of poverty and valorous self-sufficiency. According to the Morning News:

In an extensive interview last week, Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life.

“My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”

That sounds like typical backtracking from a politician caught fibbing. If it doesn’t deflate her boomlet, it was exactly what Democrats, who were hoping that Davis could take advantage of feminist fervor and changing demographics to give Texas Republicans a fight, didn’t want to hear.

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Has there ever been a more meteoric rise to national political prominence than that of Wendy Davis? A year ago Davis was so obscure a Democratic Texas state senator that even savvy liberal Beltway pundits couldn’t have picked her out of a police lineup. But her June 25 filibuster of a bill limiting late-term abortions and imposing more rigorous safety standards on clinics catapulted her to superstardom in the national liberal media. The legislation she managed to stop that day eventually passed (and has, despite the expectations of many liberals, largely survived judicial scrutiny) but Davis’s stand had already made her a heroine to a national media that was all too happy to celebrate her act as heroic even though they treated filibusters conducted by conservative Republican senators like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in Washington last year as a foolish waste of time.

Indeed, Democrats could scarcely believe their luck when they learned Davis was not only a photogenic blonde whose pink sneakers became an icon for abortion-rights supporters but also had a biography that sounded like political gold. Thanks to the values of the liberal media, soon the nation learned that she was a former single teenaged mother who, by dint of old-fashioned guts, smarts and gumption, had worked her way through college and then through Harvard Law School before turning to politics. With that kind of background and the notoriety the filibuster gave her, it’s little wonder that she became a darling of national liberal political donors such as Emily’s List and the almost certain Democratic nominee in the 2014 governor’s race.

But it turns out the true account of her life doesn’t exactly match up to the story she’s been selling while raising money for her campaign. As the Dallas Morning News reported in a story published over the weekend, “facts have been blurred” in order to make her seem more sympathetic. Davis conveniently omitted some details that are germane to her tale of poverty and valorous self-sufficiency. According to the Morning News:

In an extensive interview last week, Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life.

“My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”

That sounds like typical backtracking from a politician caught fibbing. If it doesn’t deflate her boomlet, it was exactly what Democrats, who were hoping that Davis could take advantage of feminist fervor and changing demographics to give Texas Republicans a fight, didn’t want to hear.

It is true she was a single, divorced mother who went on to be the first in her family to graduate college. But not only did she fudge some dates (she was divorced at 21, not 19), the true story is that her second husband paid her college tuition and then, to enable her to attend Harvard Law School, he emptied his 401(k) account and took out a loan. He also took full care of her child by her first husband and the one they had together, while she was in Cambridge, Massachusetts for three years alone. She left her husband to divorce him immediately after he’d paid off her law school debts. He sought and was granted custody of both his stepdaughter and daughter after the divorce. 

Over time, the Davises’ marriage was strained. In November 2003, Wendy Davis moved out.

Jeff Davis said that was right around the time the final payment on their Harvard Law School loan was due. “It was ironic,” he said. “I made the last payment, and it was the next day she left.”

Wendy Davis said that as a lawyer, she contributed too. …

In his initial divorce filing, Jeff Davis said the marriage had failed, citing adultery on her part and conflicts that the couple could not overcome. The final court decree makes no mention of infidelity, granting the divorce solely “on the ground of insupportability.”

Amber was 21 and in college. Dru was in ninth grade. Jeff Davis was awarded parental custody. Wendy Davis was ordered to pay $1,200 a month in child support.

“She did the right thing,” he said. “She said, ‘I think you’re right; you’ll make a good, nurturing father. While I’ve been a good mother, it’s not a good time for me right now.’”

These new details don’t paint the state senator in the best light. But neither do they disqualify her for high office. She’s a bright, hard-working woman who came from a modest background and went on to build a successful career. In that sense, she could viewed as a role model to young people. But when the “blurred details” are included in her biography, what we see is not a feminist heroine who persevered despite the disadvantages of being a young mother struggling against poverty and patriarchy. Instead, she comes across very much like the stereotypical male politician who exploited a helpful spouse and then sacrificed his wife and children on the altar of ambition. How many male governors, senators, or members of the House fit that description? One shudders to think.

The point here is not what we think about Davis’s life. The details of her divorces and how she made the jump from single mother to Harvard-educated lawyer/legislator aren’t relevant to the question of who should be governor of Texas or whether we agree with her stand on abortion. But they do tell us she isn’t a 21st century feminist version of Horatio Alger, a ruse that materially aided her rise from obscurity.

As with most such fibs, it was entirely unnecessary and now, rather than an asset, her fabricated bio will become a GOP talking point in a race in which polls already put her well behind her Republican opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The unvarnished facts about her life posed no impediment to her political future but, with a little editing, they were made to tell a slightly different, but far more compelling story than the one about Jeff Davis paying for her education and then being dumped along with the kids.

The fact that Wendy Davis should turn out to be, like countless male politicians, a trimmer when it comes to the truth about her life, isn’t terribly surprising, especially when you consider how disingenuous many of her arguments about late-term abortion were in her celebrated filibuster. But it should serve as a reminder to true believers of all political stripes that when politicians seem too good to be true, it’s usually because they are.

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